Win or go home

Before the 2000 Gophers football season kicked off in September, many Minnesota fans took a quick glance at the schedule to see what their team was up against.
When the fans peeked at the final game of the season and saw Iowa sitting there, they probably thought to themselves just one thing: ‘That’s a win.’
It’s time to think again, fans.
The Gophers and Hawkeyes are heading in opposite directions on Interstate 35, both literally and figuratively.
Minnesota comes in sporting a three-game losing streak, and is a football team in dismay.
Iowa, who many felt might not win a game, has rolled off two wins in a row — including an upset over 12th-ranked Northwestern last week.
“Iowa has an advantage. They beat Northwestern, and Northwestern beat us, so it’s a mental thing,” Gophers defensive end Karon Riley said. “They think they can beat us which is good for them.”
Motivation for Saturday’s 94th meeting between the two is certainly something that won’t be hard to come by.
The Gophers need to pull out a victory to insure a winning season and a likely bowl berth.
The Hawkeyes want a win to get back Floyd, the bronze pig the two schools have fought for since 1935.
Many down in Iowa are lonely for the little fella, who hasn’t been to Iowa City since the Hawkeyes lost him at the Metrodome during the final game of the 1998 season.
“We’re playing for Floyd, which is a big thing, especially when you don’t have it,” Minnesota coach Glen Mason said. “You probably talk about it more when you don’t have Floyd than when you do.”
Talk is exactly what they’re doing down in Iowa.
Earlier in the week, Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz called Floyd a “corn-grown pig,” to prove how much the pig means to his team and its devoted fans.
And the way things are going in the land of the Hawkeyes, Floyd better have his bags packed in case he’s asked to make the 4 1/2 hour move south.
If a move is made, the credit will likely go to Iowa’s defense, which has been outstanding the past three weeks.
After giving up over 31 points per game during their 1-7 start, the Hawkeyes woke up from their hangover.
Over the past three games — in which Iowa won two and lost a third to Wisconsin by just six points — the Hawkeyes defense cut almost two touchdowns off their average.
Minnesota’s defense the past three games, however, has been the total opposite of the Hawkeyes — it’s been brutal.
“In our last three games we have left a lot to be desired,” Mason said. “They’ve found their defense and we’ve lost ours.”
So during last week’s much needed Minnesota bye, the Gophers got a chance to get a sneak peak of the hot defense.
Wide receiver Ron Johnson said he watched bits and pieces of Iowa’s upset over Northwestern.
When asked what if he knew how Iowa’s defense shutdown the Wildcats and the conference’s top offense, Johnson said he had no idea.
What the junior does know is Iowa’s defense won’t go easy on the Gophers on Saturday.
“They don’t have much at stake,” Johnson said. “They’re going to do everything they can to win — they aren’t going to be conservative.”
While their defense is the answer to a two-game winning streak, the Hawkeyes’ offense is still being questioned.
Iowa’s offense is last in the Big Ten in both points (16.3) and yards (306.8) per game.
“We’re still not where we want to be offensively,” said Ferentz. “We have had a lot of continuity problems.
The main reason for a lack of offensive consistency can be directly pointed at the quarterbacks. The Hawkeyes are currently on their third signal caller of the season.
Junior Kyle McCann, who has lined up behind center during the back-to-back wins, will get the call against the Gophers.
Ferentz said McCann has played very well the past several weeks, and has helped rebuild the team’s confidence.
Ah, team confidence.
The two words Minnesota hasn’t shown since they beat Ohio State at the Horseshoe in mid-October.
The Gophers will need to find it against Iowa, or there will be no bowl appearance this season.
Said Mason: “There is not a guy who realizes that if we don’t win Saturday, we don’t go to a bowl game.”

John R. Carter covers football and welcomes comments at [email protected]